It’s safe to say that I never expected to be able to ride in a Zeppelin in my lifetime. Actually, I didn’t even know they still made Zeppelins until recently, but sure enough they do. There are three of them flying in the world, including one that’s been based at Moffett Field, south of San Francisco since late last year. It was that Zeppelin that came down to Long Beach for a week, and I had to chance to take a ride.
This is not your father’s (or grandfather’s) Zeppelin. Chances are that when you think of Zeppelins, you think of the spectacular fireball that engulfed the Hindenburg many years ago. Fortunately, today’s Zeppelin NT (for New Technology) has been designed to avoid that problem. Instead of highly flammable hydrogen, Zeppelins are now filled with inert helium. Smart move. They’re also filled with state-of-the-art equipment. It’s even fly-by-wire.
Today, Zeppelins aren’t used for long haul transport either. The flight down from Moffett Field took 8 hours – longer than it would have taken to drive. So Airship Ventures, the company that spent $14m to bring this ship to the US, uses it primarily for flightseeing tours, and it’s a spectacular experience.
On our flight, the Zeppelin cruised at about 1,000 feet above the ground going a mere 35 to 40 mph, though it can go as fast as 77 mph and as high as 7,500 ft. As you can see at right, it provided some incredible views of Long Beach. The slow speed means that you can even stick your head outside one of the two windows during the flight. Here I am filming myself doing just that:
It’s also a pretty quiet ride, unlike in a blimp. See, there is one big difference between a Zeppelin and a blimp. Today’s Zeppelin has a semi-rigid structure whereas a blimp is just a balloon. So on a blimp, the engines have to be on the gondola and that makes for a very loud ride. But on the Zeppelin, the engines can be mounted on the structure, and that makes it much more pleasant.
As you can see, it’s not a huge cabin. You won’t find bunks for the long haul, but you will find comfortable seating with windows all the way around, including a fantastic bay window in the rear. (There’s a window in the lav as well.) There is room for 12 passengers onboard, and the front two seats are facing backwards. That’s where I was sitting when I took this shot.
It is truly an incredible way to see a city from above – I hope the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce got onboard to take some pictures. It is, however, not cheap to ride. Flights start at $375 per person for 60 to 90 minute flights and go up from there. Is it worth it? I’d say it’s worth doing once, even at that steep price. It’s such an incredibly unique perspective.
The other people onboard were clearly impressed as well. One couple asked if they could do a private tour with appetizers and drinks for friends within the next few days. (They were going to try to squeeze it in.) And Airship Ventures confirmed that most of their flights throughout the week they were here in Long Beach were full.